Vanishing Forests, Disappearing Clouds
From the Fall 1992-Earth Island Journal
Earth Island Journal editor Gar Smith and veteran environmental reporter Ponderosa Pine conducted an hour-long phone interview with Adam Trombly in 1992, asking Trombly's comments on the impacts of UV radiation on the world's forests. They also discuss the impact of the destruction of these forests on the Global Hydrologic Cycle.
Trombly: Everyone thinks of the forests as the lungs of the planet, but they are also the "water tanks" of the planet. They are water banks. Healthy cloud-building and water distribution in the atmosphere worldwide depends on healthy forests.
There used to be beautiful cumulus clouds all over the Earth. As the forests were cut, there have been changes in cloud patterns. In areas adjacent to the destroyed forests these lovely cumulus clouds have frequently been replaced by dirt streaked, flattened nonproductive ( in terms of healthy rain) clouds.
Deserts are expanding. We create these deserts. That's one of the things we do really well. We create the rapid evaporation that leads to death. Most world maps are out of date. Does your map show Lake Chad? Lake Chad basically no longer exists.
From manned space flight photography you can see the destruction of an entire planet going on. You can see Lake Chad slowly disappearing from 1964 to 1982. A beautiful turquoise lake at the edge of the Sahara desert, the size of Lake Erie, with a couple of million people living on the basis of fisheries and peripheral agriculture in that area. By 1982 it was basically gone. What happened to all those people?
So called "experts" talk about "the cyclical drought." The situation in Africa isn't the result of cyclical drought, this is about the destruction of the rainforests of Africa! Healthy cloud-building was undermined when they destroyed the rainforest.
Droughts are not political: they are a legacy of ecological destruction. In 1939, Ethiopia was 43 percent forested. Today less than three percent remains forested. It was after that destruction that drought became chronic. Richard Underwood, a retired NASA engineer has said, "There are large areas of Africa where it will never rain again."
High levels of ozone have been found in the Stratosphere over Zaire and Brazil. Why? Because these regions are forested. The regions surrounding the Congo River and the Rio Negro are rich sources of oxygen. Columns of air rising from these forests lift oxygen into the stratosphere where it becomes transformed into ozone. The world's equatorial rainforests produce 100 metric tons (98 tons) of oxygen per hectare (2.47 acres) per annum. With millions of hectares of forests being lost each year, oxygen production has been critically compromised. With less oxygen being generated below, there will be less ozone produced above.
The loss of the planetary membrane--air, water, vegetation--is like cell membrane loss. The membrane of the Earth is being stripped away. It's like treating a burn patient. You need to graft on new skin or the body dies from dehydration and suffocation. We need to re-grow the forest from the edges out. Only by doing this will we be able to restore this membrane and the healthy cloud building hydrological processes of this Planet.
Then again we also have the incredibly damaging effects to our forests that have been caused by the continued manufacture of free chlorine agents and the subsequent loss of stratospheric ozone.
With increased levels of UV (Ultra-Violet Radiation) coming in, more ozone is being produced lower down in the troposphere. This ozone causes serious crop damage in the billions and billions of dollar range on a global basis. This phenomenon now also effects the tropical rainforests. High resolution infrared satellite imagery shows the damage to the rainforest canopy that this ozone has caused. It is the upper canopy that protects the lower parts of the rainforest.
While UV damage to evergreen needles has now been observed, the broad-leafed plants of the rainforest are even more vulnerable. When you examine sunburned leaves under microscopes you'll see that the leaf cells have practically been detonated.
In l974, when Rowland and Molina revealed the ozone threat posed by chlorine releases into the atmosphere, CFCs were an $8 billion a year industry. In 1974 alone, more than three billion cans of aerosols were produced.
If the Rowland/Molina theory was correct, the people who ran Du Pont, Allied Signal, Pennwalt, ICI, and other producers, faced the prospect that this multibillion dollar industry had created a threat to the continued viability of life on our planet. Rather than respond by admitting to a potentially terrible mistake and taking steps to immediately stop production, these companies challenged the scientific work as "merely theory."
On December 11, 1974, a Du Pont official told a Congressional Committee that his company would halt production as soon as it received "credible scientific data that CFCs posed "a threat to health...." That testimony was twenty-two years ago and in the face of incredible scientific evidence that not only CFCs but also a spectrum of other chlorine products cause incredible damage to the Stratosphere (not to mention that they are also incredibly carcinogenic) Du Pont and many other companies have not stopped production. they've only transferred the manufacture of some of the compounds to other countries.
When Al Gore was still a Senator he pointed out that there are six times as many chlorine molecules in the air today as there were 40 years ago. The total amount of this chemical which reaches the Stratosphere and there wrecks havoc on the healthy production of ozone is still a matter of some debate. However, it is clear that it is not just CFCs or HCFCs that can account for the tremendous amount of chlorine in the Stratosphere. On the other hand it is not just the proliferation of chlorine that's causing problems, it is also the simultaneous, wanton depletion of oxygen on this planet by fossil fuel burning and the destruction of our forests.
Reprinted from Earth Island Journal